The day of the big event. The press had gathered here in Basra over the last week to report on, and broadcast about The Transfer of Authority in southern Iraq from the British to the Americans. There was going to be a Remembrance Service and a TOA Ceremony.
As usual I has not had quite enough sleep when I had to get up in the dark and fumble around with a torch getting dressed and getting my kit together as quietly as possible so as not to wake anyone else in the big tent.
Our location this morning was only a few hundred yards from our tent. The army had kindly brought up a huge armoured vehicle called a Bulldog and placed it in front of some impressively large murals on concrete blast walls. One of the murals was instantly recognisable as a Union Jack Flag with the only slightly less recognisable symbol of the famous Desert Rats, a rat, in the centre. The other one was a silver, what looked like the fist of a knight of old on a dark blue background. Seemingly, last night after News at Ten, where the Desert Rat symbol had been used as a background for Mark Austin’s piece to camera. A delegation of high ranking officers came to complain about that beng used in preference to the fist affair.
In the morning Richard and I wanted to get the Desert Rat with the Union Jack on camera because they were the guys that looked after us very well in 2003 when we accompanied the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards and Irish Guards into Basra. It would be our personal tribute them. Also the bizarre fist emblem looked more like something that had been brought as a trophy from a wall somewhere in deepest Northern Ireland. Not to mention that it would not mean anything to anyone outside the military. We received no complaints. That either means they did not mind or that nobody was watching.
The computer satellite system worked pretty well this morning after the disasters of the yesterday. The problem we had this morning was that the mobiles would not get through. I could make a call. I could dial the number. It would be answered. I would hear the voice perfectly but they obviously were unable to hear me. There would be a few seconds of me saying “Can you hear me.” At the other end I would just hear, “Hello. Hello.”
Then an aside, “I think that might be Basra on the phone.” Then the phone would be put down.
It became very frustrating but we did manage to get all our broadcasts done.
After out eight o’clock piece we sat around under as much shade as we could find. It was by that time in the day climbing to the high 30 degrees C. At a few moments to nine we got connected to GMTV. As we started to prepare to do a live broadcast. Richard was putting a mic on and I was checking communications with London. Doug the Technical Director came on the talkback to say the were not scheduled in that part of the programme. We were not happy bunnies at being kept out in the sun for no reason. So hot and a bit sweaty we trudged back to our tent.
I had been asked by Paul the ITN Editor on site if I would mind helping out at the TOA Ceremony by doing the Sky Presentation camera. I was happy to oblige.
I just had enough time to grab a quick shower before I got my kit together and headed to the HQ area. The sun was beating down with the temperature into the forties. There had been a few victims to heat related problems during and before the Remembrance Service.
Phil, the Sky cameraman had been roped into doing one of the BBC cameras for the coverage of the ceremony. I would be doing their presentation camera with the reporter Geoff Meade. The assembly of dignitaries from Britain, The USA, Iraq and a couple of other countries were taking their seats when climbed up onto the little camera platform. There wasn’t much for me to do really. I would just have to stand there and make sure the camera was framed properly for the pieces to camera. A nice easy job. It almost became a tiny bit more interesting as we approached the start of the ceremony. Over the talkback from the Sky Gallery a voice said that the feed from the BBC had frozen and the only pictures that were coming out of Iraq at that moment were Sky’s. So instead of three camera coverage with all three in the optimum positions for the various parts of the ceremony being manned by three cameramen who knew what was going to happen because they had been at the rehearsal, there was about to be one camera coverage from a camera way off to the one side manned by a cameraman who had no idea what was going to happen because there had been no need for him(me) to be at the rehearsal. I thought, “This could be fun.” as I waited to do see how events unfolded.
A few moments later Geoff was cued from the studio to start commentating on the ceremony so we realised that the BBC coverage was back and working correctly.
Geoff sat below me in a slightly crumpled shirt, a blue tie that could have been a military one and a light careworn jacket. To top off the slightly eccentric appearance he had on a floppy white sun which shaded his face reddened by the hot Iraqi sun.
Geoff keeping his vocal cords hydrated in the heat.
His measured tones told the story of the ceremony as viewers saw the BBC pictures. Towards the end I was expecting him to pop up in front of my camera but he never did. So, I went from thinking the job would be dead easy, to thinking it would be quite challenging, to doing nothing at all except stand out in the baking heat for 45 minutes watching a load of military senior officers, mainly from America verbally slap each other on the back.
Richard and I had a long wader to another of the canteen buildings to indulge in a very nice stir fry like one we had last night. It was quite a walk from our tent. There was no problem with our passes this time those frustrations were long gone, but we were not allowed into the dinning hall under any circumstances. All the pleading and polite requests to eat fell on deaf ears. At no time was the guard in any way discourtious but he was very firm. No entry meant no entry. At least until we changed out of our flip flops and put on proper footwear.
We trudged back to the tent and chnged into more appropriate boots. I had hoped not to have to put my feet back into the sweaty, smelly boots that by now might just be able to make the journey to the DFAC on their own, but I had to.
By the time we got back correctly dressed we had worked up a bit of an appetite, not to mention a sweat. The talk all the way along the dusty road was of the combination of ingredients and spices that made the perfect stir fry. Like a pair of excited school boys on their first trip to a brothel, sorry sweet shop we scampered to the corner of the vast building where the stir fry counter was. We were then like little boys on Christmas morning when the much asked for Play Station turned out to be an educational game about the history of medieval Itaian paintings. The place was shut. With not much enthusiasm we chose other meals. They were ok, but, a little while later I had to spend some time in a smaller facility!